INTERVIEW: SKS - BikeBiz

INTERVIEW: SKS

SKS has pulled off the impressive feat of manufacturing a broad range of product in the country in which it was founded, and last year saw record sales in the UK. Jonathon Harker speaks to the company’s Jan Henning for the story behind SKS’s success...
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SKS had been in the bike business for over 75 years, but actually came into existence 13 years earlier, meaning its manufacturing business dates back to an impressive tally just shy of 90 years.

With 260 employees dedicated to the bicycle sector and a further 340 working outside the genre for the firm, the not-inconsiderably-sized SKS is a company with some serious history.

But the years have not dulled its commitment and enthusiasm for the cycling trade – at time of writing SKS is involved in no less than 19 biking events before the end of 2009 in Germany and the rest of Europe, and with team sponsorship too, SKS has kept cycling firmly in the centre of its world.

But how does a firm stay at the top of its game when it’s looking ahead to celebrating its first century? And just how did a distribution deal give the firm its best ever sales in the UK ever last year? A candid Jan Henning tells all to BikeBiz...

Can you give us a brief history of the brand?
Karl Scheffer-Klute founded SKS in the year 1921. After 12 years of manufacturing curtain poles he started producing pumps in 1932, so actually we can look back on a history of 75 years in the bicycle business. 1983 saw SKS take over the Bluemels Company and we started mudguard production in Germany in 1988. Some years later another company was taken over by SKS – ESGE with its Benchmark mudguard brand Chromoplastics.

In 1999 SKS started dirtboard production for MTBs, and with Shockboard and Xtra Dry SKS developed the first Quick-Release Dirtboard. With bike tools in 2003 and chainguards in 2006 we have increased the product range for bikes constantly. Our aim is to surprise our customers in the near future with some smart products.

Where is the product manufactured? Is it a dedicated facility?
All of our products are produced at our headquarters in Sundern, Germany. The facilities are based on the same production plant as the company’s first 77 years ago.

Why should dealers take on the SKS brand products?
All our products are well known for their quality and function over the decades. We offer our customers a lifetime warranty and for most of our products you will obtain spare parts after years as well. Furthermore the awareness of our orange and black products on the walls of the shops makes them outstanding symbols of the trade.

How has SKS performed in the UK recently?
Two years ago we changed our distribution in the UK. In line with the retirement of our honorary sales representative Eric Healy we had to set up the distribution for the future so we reduced the number of wholesalers to the three strongest distributors: Chicken, Raleigh and Madison.

In terms of sales figures, 2008 was our all-time record year in the UK. That reinforced to us that we had made the right decision.

Is SKS currently sponsoring any teams?
For more than 15 years SKS has sponsored several teams in road and MTB racing. Additionally we support school projects and bike travelling projects to support all different kinds of cycling. In 2007 SKS Germany founded its own MTB Junior team and due to developments in road racing we had to rethink our sponsor strategy.

The target of our new SKS ‘Made in Germany Team’ is to realise the dream of the young riders to become a professional rider and the second target is to communicate the ‘Proudly Made in Germany’ philosophy of SKS and the other team sponsors.

How important is team sponsorship to the company?
For emotionalising the SKS brand and receiving product feedback for our R&D department, sponsorship is really important.

Has SKS won any awards recently? Do you hope to retain them? What went into winning them?
Yes we’ve won a variety of awards recently and we will win several awards in the future, too. But our aim and focus is to develop, design and produce products which fulfil the need for cyclists.

It is nice to receive positive feedback like winning tests or receiving design awards, but it’s a secondary concern for us.

What does SKS have over competitors?
People who use our products stay with us for years and are satisfied by the quality and function of our products. For example, our Chromoplastics product range covers all the needs of consumers and retailers – once it’s assembled once on the bike it will keep you dry for years. It is the same story with our Rennkompressor and if the consumer needs a new gasket after five or six years it’s not a problem to get it from one of our distributors or from official SKS dealers.

What effect has the current economic climate had on business for SKS?
We expect a stable year in countries using the Euro. But outside these the challenges of currency troubles won’t simplify the situation and sales. That’s especially true in Eastern Europe where we have several question marks over how this year will end.

Is a particular genre of product doing well and driving SKS sales?
We can’t say that one category is driving sales for SKS. Due to the different markets in each country we have different focuses. For example the sale of fixed fender in UK is not typical for the general SKS turnover around the globe. In some countries we have strong OEM business like in Netherlands; in others our mini pump and floor pump range is increasing like hell.

Will SKS expand into new areas and sectors?
We will see what the next bike shows around Europe for SKS will present. We are working on several projects which we know our customers will love!

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